In one of the most substantial verdicts the state of Massachusetts has seen in recent years, a jury awarded a family $30 million for their son’s birth injury caused by lack of oxygen at birth. Born in January 2013, the baby lived, but he will never be able to walk, talk, or eat without assistance.
A Healthy Pregnancy Ends in Tragedy
Kim Boulter enjoyed a healthy pregnancy with her first child in 2013 and planned to deliver at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Her husband worked as a radiology fellow at MGH at the time. Sadly, the family’s joy and trust in a world-class institution turned to fear when their baby boy was born. After five hours of pushing he was delivered but was not breathing and barely had a heartbeat.
Medical staff leapt to the aid of the child, shocked to find he was in distress. They had not been using a continuous fetal heart-rate monitor during delivery. This resulted in their not recognizing the baby was in distress. They believed the baby was healthy and strong.
After spending too long in the birth canal with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, the little boy suffered a lack of oxygen at birth that left him with crippling brain injuries. Thankfully, the baby survived and is now a happy six year old despite his injuries. He cannot eat, speak, or walk on his own. He is and always will be reliant on caregivers.
In his mother’s words, “…his life is much, much more difficult, full of medical appointments, surgeries…”
Lack of Oxygen at Birth: Trial and Verdict
The family pursued a birth injury claim, which lasted for six years until a jury finally awarded them $30.6 million. Boulter says they were patient and committed for so long because she and her husband desperately want hospitals to have clear fetal monitoring guidelines that could help prevent birth injuries like their son suffered. Throughout the trial, they argued their son would not have had a lack of oxygen at birth if the medical staff had the accurate data that a continuous monitor would have provided.
The Boulters initially named several parties as defendants in their lawsuit:
- The hospital itself
- The midwife
- The attending obstetrician
- The nurse herself
However, at trial, the jury only heard arguments regarding the liability of the nurse’s employer, Cross Country Staffing Inc. All the other parties settled prior to trial, and the Boulters’ attorney argued that the nurse’s employer was actually legally responsible for her negligent behavior.
Cross Country Staffing is an agency that connects nurses to hospitals who are short-staffed. The nurse who failed to monitor the baby’s heart rate was essentially a temporary employee at MGH. In the trial, the jury found the employer responsible for supplying the nurse who acted negligently.
Though the jury handed down a substantial verdict, the Boulters’ chose to reach a confidential settlement. The sum was estimated to be substantial given the amount of the verdict. Boulter experienced nothing but joy over the outcome of the case. The jury found the nurse who failed to continuously monitor the baby to be at fault, and that is enough.
Consequently, the Boulters are hopeful MGH policies will shift to prevent other injuries like those that caused their son’s injury and disability.
It Can Happen Anywhere
MGH is one of the foremost medical facilities in the country. The baby’s father was even employed as a physician there himself. Unfortunately, medical mistakes can happen anywhere. Despite trust in a well-known facility, the Boulters’ son suffered a lack of oxygen at birth as a result of the negligence of an individual party, not the facility itself. Difficult deliveries and negligent medical staff can happen anywhere – even in the best hospitals.
Regarding the Boutlers’ difficult delivery, the hospital released a statement saying that their “high standard was not met.” The parents say the well-respected reputation and her healthy pregnancy combined to create the tragedy of her son’s birth injury.
“No one ever suspected anything would ever go wrong and therefore the medical provider in this case did not monitor [my son] well enough,” Kim Boulter said.
Fetal Monitoring and Lack of Oxygen at Birth
During pregnancy, labor, and delivery, the umbilical cord supplies all the oxygen a baby needs. The Boulters’ son suffered a lack of oxygen at birth because he spent five hours in the birth canal with the cord wrapped tightly around his neck. Even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation can cause deficits.
Lack of oxygen at birth can cause many types of birth injuries including:
- Brain damage to the motor, vocal, hearing, or vision centers
- Developmental delays
- Cerebral Palsy
- Organ failure
An internal continuous fetal monitor could have detected the Boulter baby’s faltering heart rate. The handheld intermittent monitor used by the nurse that day raised no alarm.
In cases of prolonged labor, usually after two or three hours of pushing the standard of care involves continuous heart rate monitoring because the baby is at increased risk for birth injuries. With only intermittent monitoring, the labor and delivery staff didn’t have the information they needed to properly care for Boulter and her child.
If they had detected a compromised heart rate, the medical team could have quickly intervened with forceps or a vacuum extractor. Like all parents, the Boulters trusted the labor and delivery staff to provide the best care.
A mother relies heavily on her support system to make decisions while in the throes of labor. Many mothers choose to have their partners present. It is also increasingly common to hire a professional birth assistant, like a doula. Most mothers find it is important to have someone there who can advocate for her when labor takes her breath away.
It is equally as important for a mother to be able to rely on healthcare providers in the hospital. Not only is the mother in no shape to suggest interventions, but it is certainly the job of the labor and delivery staff to implement safety measures to benefit both mother and baby. Boulter did not refuse internal fetal monitoring, her caregivers never offered it to her. Sadly, her baby paid the price.
Birth Injury Attorneys Who Care
Nothing can replace the stolen joy of a baby who should have been born healthy, but instead was deprived of oxygen. The attorneys at Birth Injury Guide can’t take away your pain. We can attempt to ease the financial burden of birth injuries and hold the at-fault parties accountable.
If your baby suffered lack of oxygen at birth or any other birth injury, contact our legal team to learn more about your rights. Call 1-877-415-6603 or contact us online.